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How to avoid a nervous breakdown when you host a children's party

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MY son's fifth birthday is just around the corner. Which means I'm panicking. Sort of.

 The thought of having 15-plus children running around my home for two hours is enough to fill me with dread. Gary is an only child. I can cope with one. Any more than that I find difficult to manage. And what's worse is the all-reliable nanny has gone home to Brazil for a five-week holiday and won't be around to help out this year.

People sometimes ask me what I would be if I wasn't a writer. I'm really not sure. Maybe I'd still be a flight attendant. Or work in PR. Or own a small sweetie shop or something. But I definitely wouldn't be a party planner. No way. Not for all the money in the world.

I love other people's parties, but I find throwing my own parties pretty scary. Mind you, I'm getting better and better at this entertaining lark. The first year Gary had the children from his creche over to a birthday party, I had many sleepless nights in the run-up to the event. You'd swear I'd been given the task of trying to organise the Vanity Fair post-Oscars party or something.

As it was the first ever children's party I'd ever thrown, I kind of went overboard on the goody bags. I mean, I really crammed as many toys and sweets into those little plastic bags as I possibly could. I also made the mistake of inviting along the parents. I've since realised that it's far better to shoo the adults out the door as soon as they arrive. Other parents only get in the way, and you end up spending more time fussing over them than the kids.

Okay, so it's good to have a couple of your fellow mummies around to help out on the day, but no more than a couple. The rest can go off shopping and come back later. I mean, wouldn't they want the time off? I know I definitely would. God, I almost never volunteer to help at other children's parties, and instead relish my two free hours in the middle of the afternoon.

Last year, for Gary's fourth birthday, I made the terrible mistake of waiting to book professional entertainment until a couple of weeks before the big day. To my dismay, all the clowns and magicians had been long booked up and nobody was available at short notice. I had to do all the games myself, huffing and puffing until I was red in the face.

Never again, said I, as I sat down with a huge glass of wine once everybody had left. I also made an error in doing hot food. Between pass the parcel and musical chairs I was turning cocktail sausages on the grill. I bought in too much party food as well. This meant that days after the children had gone home I was still eating the left-over iced buns. Big mistake.

Anyway, this year it will be different. There will be only cold food, all prepared in advance. The party entertainer was booked months ago. And for once in my life I won't be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Happy birthday, son.

www.marisamackle.ie